Philadelphia Inquirer – September 30, 2003
A former aide accuses the former mayor of acting vindictively after criticism of his policies.
By Dwight Ott, Inquirer Staff Writer
CAMDEN – Jailed ex-Mayor Milton Milan is scheduled to answer accusations in U.S. District Court today that he wrongfully fired an assistant business administrator who spoke out against his policies.
Milan, 41, is serving a seven-year sentence in a minimum-security federal penitentiary in Pennsylvania. It is said that he has been “born again” and has forgiven his enemies – and that he has lost weight and is running 10 miles a day. Friends say that upon his release, he may become a minister.
Milan, the city’s first Hispanic mayor, was convicted in December 2000 of charges that he accepted payoffs from organized-crime figures, solicited bribes from city vendors, skimmed money from a political action committee, and laundered drug money.
At the time of former assistant business administrator Keith Walker’s lawsuit, filed shortly after Milan’s conviction, Milan branded the allegations a “lie.”
Milan is scheduled to be the first witness in the case, which is expected to last about two weeks.
John C. Eastlack Jr., the lawyer hired to defend the city, said Walker was fired in May 1999 because he failed in his duties as assistant business administrator. “Because [Milton Milan] was convicted, it doesn’t mean open season on the City of Camden for anyone who wants to make a claim,” Eastlack said in his opening statement. “It’s not about the conviction of Milton Milan.”
Walker, who is African American, alleges that he was hired in September 1997 at a lower salary and with a different benefits package of an assistant business administrator, James Reynolds, who is white.
Once on board, Walker says in the suit, he challenged decisions made by Milan and other top city officials. In one instance, the suit alleges, Walker raised questions about a trip Milan had taken to the island of Dominica.
“Keith Walker was the conscience of the people and the employees of Camden,” his attorney, Mark Frost, said in in his opening statement yesterday. “For that he was terminated… . We’re concerned about First Amendment rights and freedom of speech. We will prove that what he spoke out against cost him his job.”
Eastlack disagreed: “What this case is about is the personal responsibility of Keith Walker to perform his job he was hired to do… . There was no violation of Mr. Walker’s First Amendment rights.”
Noting that Walker served as the city’s spokesman, Eastlack said that was an unlikely position for someone whose free speech was being curbed.
Milan was to be transported yesterday from Loretto, Cambria County, to the Philadelphia area, Eastlack said.
The Rev. Ivonne Martinez, a friend and supporter who visited Milan in August, said the facility was almost like a college campus and that she saw only about three security guards. She added that Milan drives around in a golf cart supervising a 22-man maintenance crew and that he “was doing excellent and was a born-again Christian.”
The facility is “an open space, no bars, no chains, or barbed wire,” Martinez said. “He said if he wanted to, he could get in his car and keep going, but he would never do that, he said, because ‘I’m Christian.’ He is preaching and practicing the word of God.”
She said Milan said there were doctors, dentists and lawyers in the facility.
She said she believed he would become a Pentecostal minister upon his release.
She said he was not bitter: “Milton Milan is thankful to the Lord. He thanks everybody. Some people think they did this to hurt him. He realizes it was really God working in his life.”